Commentary: Keep guns from domestic abusers

A sign reading "45,000 Americans died from gun violence last year" is posted at an art installation of flowers honoring the 3,200 California residents killed last year due to gun violence on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 in Los Angeles. The installation, located in Exposition Park, is open to the public through Oct. 22. (Mario Tama/Getty Images/TNS)
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Lisa Geller Progressive Perspectives (TNS)

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this year’s commemoration comes at a time when researchers are reporting tragic increases in rates of domestic violence — a “pandemic within a pandemic” — across the country.

At the same time, the United States is experiencing a sharp increase in gun violence, largely driven by gun homicides. And almost every day we’re discovering troubling new information about the connection between domestic violence and gun violence.

It’s time to address these epidemics with more accurate media coverage and equitable, evidence-based solutions.


We understand, both through research and intuition, that guns play a central role in domestic violence. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that nearly 1 million women alive today in the United States have been either shot or shot at by an abusive partner; and around 4.5 million women have been threatened with a gun at some point in their lives.

More than half of all women killed by an abusive partner were killed with a gun. In total, more than one in four homicides in the U.S. are related to domestic violence.

Though anyone can experience domestic violence, women are victims of domestic gun violence at rates far exceeding those of men. Black, Indigenous and Alaskan Native women are disproportionately harmed by intimate partner homicide. So are LGBTQ+ people.

A May 2021 study that I authored with colleagues from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health further explores the relationship between domestic violence and gun violence. The findings were alarming, even among our experienced team.

Nearly six in 10 mass shootings (defined in our paper as incidents with four or more fatalities by gunfire excluding the perpetrator) between 2014 and 2019 were related to domestic violence. And in nearly seven in 10 cases, the perpetrator shot his or her spouse, partner, or other family members, and/or had a history of domestic abuse.

Further, domestic violence mass shootings had higher fatality rates than those unrelated to domestic violence.

Our recommendations in this paper are simple but urgent: Domestic violence should be treated as a public health crisis, rather than dismissed as a private family matter. A history of domestic violence should be a key factor in determining whether an individual can purchase or possess a firearm. While not all instances of domestic violence involve a firearm, and not all acts of domestic violence are fatal, the combination significantly increases the risk of serious harm or death.

Additionally, we urge members of the media to expand their coverage beyond “public” mass shootings. As we write in our paper, focusing only on the most “public” incidents of gun violence “may lead to an assumption that most mass shootings occur at random, leading to missed opportunities for intervention, either through policies or programs, that could help reduce the burden of mass shootings.”

Ultimately, both domestic violence prevention and gun violence prevention must be addressed with policy change, increased education and improved implementation of existing laws. Among other things, we must prohibit people convicted of violent misdemeanors or subject to domestic violence protective orders from purchasing or possessing guns; close the dating partner loophole to ensure abusive dating partners are subject to domestic violence-related firearm laws; and make sure these laws are implemented swiftly and equitably by prioritizing the removal of guns from domestic abusers.

We have the power to prevent untold tragedies by recognizing the groups most at-risk for domestic violence, specifically Black and brown women, and by passing and implementing restrictions on firearm access for individuals with a history of domestic violence. As we wait, lives are on the line.

Lisa Geller is the state affairs manager at the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.
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